Director Keith Gordon emphasizes the nuance and detail of the performances by letting the camera roll for a long time in heavy, two-person scenes. (One highlight: the penis measuring contest of sorts between Bill and the African-American newspaper editor, between a doctor boasting of his accolades and an editor making fun of said doctor, as he pretends to be like the subject who will obey a white oppressor without question.)
As for Libby – whose testy situation involving her nanny, Coral, has become a spot of much bitter debate among the show’s fans – “Blackbird” starts to clear up some of the more muddled personality traits from past episodes. Caitlin FitzGerald is too good of an asset on Masters of Sex and she gives us hints about the subtext behind her provocative decisions. Here, it becomes clearer that she envies Coral’s life, as her nanny is surrounded by a man she (as Libby believes) loves and satisfies her sexually.
Her explanations to Bill about Robert “threatening” her were likely a way to hide how appalled she is to feel such deep feeling toward a man of color. The unnerving scene when she confronts Robert at the episode’s end and she has a moment of tingled sensation as he touches her leg expresses both her desire and her fear. Libby’s cold stare out the window at the episode’s start turns out to be more in heat than we originally believed. Even Bill calls her a “peeping Tom,” a tad ironic given his job doing the same thing in a sex study.
On the topic of desire, Gene comes to realize that Betty has deep feelings for Helen, which comes full circle when his wife freaks out after Helen announces her engagement to Al (a move made to shroud herself in a normal life). This leads to a confrontation, both chilly and heated, when he fails to come to terms with her same-sex relationship and what that means for him. (Greg Grunberg and Annaleigh Ashford have never been finer than they are in this episode, which could be the Emmy-consideration episode for a whole collection of Masters of Sex actors.)
Over the weekend, Allison Janney won (deservedly) an Emmy for her guest role as Margaret Scully in season one. Any fan of Masters of Sex should hope the voting body does the same for Julianne Nicholson next year, as her quiet yet powerful turn as the embattled Lillian DePaul has been the show’s strongest emotional hook for the past half-season or so. While the character’s death should spur some major evolution in Virginia’s life, it will be hard for the series to return to its cruder, more comedic territory – the sex study that provided such tittering last season has been almost entirely absent this year.
We can only hope the show will use DePaul’s passing as a starting point for some real soul-searching among the female protagonist, a woman whose pretty persuasions are starting to come up empty. At a pivotal point in this Masters of Sex episode, Virginia explains to Bill that she needs a friend, and perhaps that one can be him. He leans in to kiss her and she does not resist. For Virginia, she was only waiting for this moment to arrive.